Fillet of salmon with capers, fennel & Dijon butter (Rachel Allen)

IMG_2565On to Round Two of December’s ‘Cookery Calendar Challenge‘. I can see the obvious flaw in that statement – yes it is January, but Christmas happened and so I ran out of time. In actual fact, I cooked this on New Year’s Eve, so I can probably still legitimately claim to have fulfilled the challenge – the problem was, what with having mates here to stay,  Prosecco may have been taken and we’d eaten it all before I even thought of getting out the camera.

On the upside, this salmon dish from Rachel Allen’s ‘Recipes from my Mother’ was absolutely delicious and so ridiculously easy that we’ve eaten it again since, even though we are only a week further on. I’ve even managed to make it look quite nice for the photo, which is an improvement – perhaps 2018 will be the year I conquer this photography lark a little more.

January in Cornwall got off to an unusually cold start – we are usually basking in mild double-digit temperatures down here in Britain’s southerly extreme, so it was a surprise to find these beautiful ice patterns on our (usually completely plain) glass roof a couple of days ago:

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Apparently these ‘ice flowers’ are due to very cold air outside coupled with humidity inside, and are shaped by imperfections in the glass. That’s according to the Royal Meteorological Society anyway.

Back to the matter in hand. Of course, I tweaked Rachel’s recipe a little – you are probably quite justifiably thinking ‘for the love of God woman, can you not just leave other people’s recipes alone,’ but I do have good reasons. Firstly, the original recipe calls for the salmon to be pan-fried, which I dismissed on two counts:  I hate the smell of fried fish in my house and the farmed salmon we get here is fatty enough without being fried. Probably Rachel is used to the kind of Icelandic salmon that has the pec muscles of Usain Bolt,  but mine was a more sedentary character, which had spent its life in the salmon equivalent of Champneys – drifting about in a sea loch in West Scotland.

I’ve therefore given the recipe as I cooked it, but if you aren’t putting the oven on for anything else, of course feel free to either pan fry, griddle or grill the fish.

The second tweak was not of my choosing, merely indicative that we are at the very end of Britain’s grocery supply chain down here in Cornwall – Rachel’s recipe calls for fennel fronds, but the few fennel bulbs I managed to run to ground had all been given severe haircuts and were frond-less, poor things. I used dill instead, which is clearly not the same thing, but goes very well with fish and does have the same sort of aniseed notes as the fennel.
I probably ought to fess up to a third tweak: I seasoned the salmon fillets with one of the fabulous Cornish sea salt mixtures that arrived in my Christmas stocking. This particular one is a mix of pepper, seaweed and Cornish sea salt flakes – it adds a unique flavour to pretty much everything and is particularly good with fish. But you can just season with ordinary salt and pepper, of course. I also threw in a pinch of chilli flakes, because these types of punchy flavours pretty much always benefit from a little extra heat – leave it out if you want to be more subtle.

This is one of those useful recipes that you can very easily scale up or down, though I would highly recommend making enough of the butter for at least two goes – it will be very happy in the freezer for a few weeks, as the butter protects the herbs from the ice. Do let the butter come up to room temperature before serving though – the fish doesn’t hold heat like a steak, so the butter needs to be soft rather than chilled.

Even if you are not normally a lover of capers (I’m not), do give this a go – they just add a very savoury and sharp punch, which goes so well with the salmon.

Fillet of salmon with capers, fennel (dill) and Dijon butter

Serves 4

4 salmon fillets
Salt & freshly-ground black pepper
A little olive oil for brushing

For the butter:
50g softened butter
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 heaped tablespoon capers, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fennel fronds or dill
A pinch of chilli flakes (optional)


Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.

Put all the ingredients for the butter into a small bowl and mix with until well combined. Set aside while you cook the fish (do not chill).

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Line a small roasting tray with non-stick baking paper and lay the salmon fillets on top. Brush lightly with a little oil (just enough so that the salt and pepper will stick) and then season generously with salt and freshly-ground pepper.

Bake in the oven for 20 minutes.

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Transfer the salmon fillets to plates and place a couple of teaspoons of the herb butter onto each fillet. Serve immediately.

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